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Favorite films and television of 2017 (part 3)

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There’s always content from any given year that, try as I might, I do not get to watch until the following year. This year has been no exception, though I have been able to see many more limited-release films theatrically since moving to Portland last September, which saves me from having to wait for them to come out on DVD and pick them up through Netflix. This entry will cover what I’ve seen during the first two months of 2018, which is 90% material created for 2017.


“I, Tonya”

Of the 2017 films I saw these past two months, I really liked “I, Tonya”, “Molly’s Game”, “All the Money in the World”, “Brad’s Status”, “Call Me By Your Name”, “Inxeba (The Wound)” and “Phantom Thread”.


“All the Money in the World”

Having now seen roughly 90-95% of the films I wanted to see for 2017, I feel I can make some kind of list of my favorite films from the year. In my previous entry I declared “Lucky” as my overall favorite of the year, and I stand by that. I pass along this list of my ten favorites, in order of when they were released during the year:

  1. “Get Out”
  2. “Long Strange Trip”
  3. “Oh, Hello On Broadway”
  4. “It”
  5. “Lucky”
  6. “The Florida Project”
  7. “mother!”
  8. “I, Tonya”
  9. “All the Money in the World”
  10. “Phantom Thread”

“Phantom Thread”

With the Academy Awards being handled out this upcoming Sunday, I thought I would make a second list of my preference for each of the nine films nominated for best picture. I was lucky to have seen all nine nominees in the theater (even before the nominations were announced), so my streak of seeing the eventual best picture winner will continue into its twenty-first year.

  1. “Get Out”
  2. “Phantom Thread”
  3. “Dunkirk”
  4. “Darkest Hour”
  5. “Call Me By Your Name”
  6. “Lady Bird”
  7. “The Shape of Water”
  8. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
  9. “The Post”



“Get Out”

I really liked the first four on this list, and generally liked the next four, and basically didn’t feel much of anything for “The Post”. It just didn’t captivate me. I feel “The Shape of Water” may be the big winner on Sunday, or at the very least Guillermo Del Toro will be named best director, and I only wish he received this honor for his much better film “Pan’s Labyrinth” or even “Pacific Rim”. It will be akin to Scorsese winning gold for “The Departed” when he made so many other superior films. But that is the nature of Hollywood’s best-known popularity contest, I suppose.


“Inxeba – The Wound”

Other films I liked include “Okja” (a global tale about GMO food production), “Trophy” (big-game hunting vs. conservation), “The Insult” (the fragility of Lebanese/Palestinian relations), “24×36” (documentary about the history of movie posters) and “78/52” (documentary about Hitchcock’s famous shower scene from “Psycho”).


“Call Me By Your Name”

“Good Time” was well written but I think I would have liked it more had it not been so chronically depressing. “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” felt like a mashup of “Spirited Away” and Harry Potter, with a Scottish raccoon that felt too out of place.


“Brad’s Status”

A few disappointments — “The Post”, as I mentioned before… it just didn’t interest me. Spielberg should have teamed up with Aaron Sorkin to pump up this subject matter (freedom of press). Too bad he was busy writing and directing the captivating “Molly’s Game”. I also saw “Downsizing” and couldn’t care for the lead character, this sad sack played by Matt Damon, nor the yappy housecleaner who devotes herself to caring for the sick and informed.

I have seen a few 2018 releases… last night we saw “Annihilation” which I loved for its visual beauty and the creative imagery of horror (the bear creature that barks like a screaming woman). I saw “Hostiles” and “Black Panther” and liked both, though seeing them once was enough.


“Everything Sucks”

On the television front, I watched the second season of “Baskets”, which was better than the first. Netflix material I saw and liked: the first season of “Everything Sucks” and the fourth season of “Black Mirror”, particularly “USS Callister”, Hang the DJ” and the black/white cat-and-mouse tale “Metalhead”.



On the flip side, the fourth season of “Grace and Frankie” convinced me the show is running on fumes (Lily Tomlin looks totally uninterested in most episodes), “Godless” needed a dialogue coach to teach the cast how to speak with a southern accent that doesn’t sound like it came out of a 1950s western, and “Alias Grace” that did something with the lead male character in the final episode that made absolutely no sense and completely ruined the ending of what had been a so-so tale of wrongful prosecution.


“Black Mirror – Hang the DJ”

We’ve also been watching the first two seasons of HGTV show “Good Bones”, a fun mother/daughter team that buys and renovates homes in Indianapolis, and I rewatched every episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, a show that’s unfortunately approaching a Simpsons-level of zombification.


“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”

I received my MoviePass card the first week of January and have already seen 12 films, which would have cost me $121.05 in ticket sales (I’m keeping a spreadsheet) but has actually only cost me $10 per month. Right now I’m averaging $1.67 per movie… not too shabby!


“78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene”


Written by camcarlson

March 2, 2018 at 1:13 AM

Posted in Cinema

Favorite films (and television) of 2017 (part 2)

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[minor spoilers ahead]

I’ve decided to not wait much longer into the new year to write about what I liked about the second half of last year. I’m sure there’s a better way to phrase that, but let’s stick with it. I don’t want to excessively edit this entry, given the amount of material I have to cover. Below is what I’ve seen and liked…


“The Shape of Water”

Before I begin with 2017, I want to briefly touch on a catch-up film from 2016, “Certain Women”, the latest film by Kelly Reichardt, she who previously made “Old Joy”, “Meek’s Cutoff” and “Wendy and Lucy”. Her latest film is a mixture of three stories, connected to each other in varying ways. The film beautifully captures the look of Montana: wide expanses of land, mountains off in the distance, cold, windy, alone. I was drawn in by one scene in particular — Michelle Williams’ character has come to the home of an old man whose lawn just happens to include the collapsed remains of an old school house, and she would like to buy the sandstone rubble to use in the construction of her new home. The old man (René Auberjonois) is at first standoffish to her offer as the rubble continues to serve a purpose – it reminds him of the past, and his memories. But after a bit of meandering conversation on his part, he brings up bird whistles, and Williams provides the correct response to one of his calls. Having made a connection, they eventually agree on a price, though it is clear from the look on his face that the idea of losing the stones does not sit well with him. It’s a touching scene, and it helps make this film one of my favorite from last year.


“Certain Women”

Of the 2017 films I saw this year, I really liked “A Quiet Passion”, “It”, “Lucky”, “The Florida Project”, “Lady Bird”, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “mother!”

Of these films, I most liked “Lucky”. It was the final film to feature Harry Dean Stanton, who passed away last year at age 91. Granted, Stanton spent his many decades in Hollywood as a character actor, having only once before been the lead in a film (“Paris, Texas” back in 1984; a film so great, it’s hard to top). Lucky reminded me of my 92-year old grandfather, in the way that he’s still alive, crotchety but approachable, with his daily routines that keep him plugging away at life. There’s a scene where he sees a doctor (played by Ed Begley Jr.) and the doctor tells him he can’t explain why he’s still alive, but whatever he’s doing seems to be working, so just keep doing it. The film features a cameo by Tom Skerritt as a veteran passing through town; he and Lucky sit next to each other at a diner one day and talk about their service, and Skerritt shares a painful story about WWII. The film also features a cameo by David Lynch as a dapper friend who has lost his tortoise, and gives a heartfelt speech about what friendship means to people (and tortoises) who have lived as long as they have. Usually when I see a movie about elderly people, it’s hard for me to not think about how they’re likely going to die soon, and all the various sentimental feelings that come with that. “Lucky” may be the only film about an elderly man that stares down those thoughts and puts me at ease. Lucky is going to be all right, no matter how he meets his fate.



The film that best transported me into a singular environment was “The Florida Project”, set in the land of cheap motels near Disney World, bright pastel paints, thick white summer clouds, melting ice cream, bored kids with the entire world as their playground, and dead-end teenage moms living in the margins of society. The lead is played by 7-year old Brooklynn Prince, who does better and more convincing acting in this role than nearly everything else I saw last year.



I wonder how different “Boyhood” would have been had it been about a girl (and/or if it had been directed by a female filmmaker). I guess we’ll never get to see “Girlhood”, but if it’s any consolation, we do have “Lady Bird”, the story about a headstrong senior at a Catholic high school who is chomping at the bit to get the hell away from home once she graduates. Saoirse Ronan was 22 when the film was made, which is well enough for playing a 17-year old student — my main gripe with films about students is usually how much older the actors are in comparison to their characters. Laurie Metcalf as the mother who has mastered passive-aggressive relations.


“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

“mother!” received mixed reviews, most of which were very strong — people either loved it or hated it. I’m drawn to movies that elicit that kind of passion, and in this case, I definitely liked this film. Darren Aronofsky has made a career tearing his characters apart (“Pi”, “Requiem for a Dream”, “The Wrestler”, “Black Swan”). “mother!” takes this propensity to the extreme. Some people didn’t like how the film was made, lots of close-up shots of Jennifer Lawrence either from the front or behind, but I thought it helped disorient the audience to the surroundings, preventing anyone from feeling too comfortable with the film’s setting (filmed almost entirely inside of a rehabilitated house). It reminded me of the disorienting feeling of watching “The Blair Witch Project” and how it helped create a feeling of unease. Much has been written about what the film is suppose to mean — it’s rich in allegory — so since it’s already been said, likely better, by others, I won’t waste time trying to give my own two cents.



Other films I liked include “Baby Driver”, “The Big Sick”, “Blade Runner 2049” (though the theater I saw it at turned the volume up waaay too loud), “Darkest Hour”, “Free Fire”, “A Ghost Story”, “In This Corner of the World”, “Ingrid Goes West”, “It Comes At Night”, “The Shape of Water”, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, “Super Dark Times”, “Thor: Ragnarok” and “War for the Planet of the Apes”.


“Blade Runner 2049”

A few disappointments — “Personal Shopper”, the latest film pairing between Kristen Stewart and director Olivier Assayas. Perhaps I’m not in tune to appreciate French quasi-horror films (at least not modern ones), or perhaps I appreciated Stewart and Assayas’ previous collaboration too much (“Clouds of Sils Maria”).


“Clouds of Sils Maria”

I also didn’t care for “The Beguiled”, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” (the visuals were top-notch but the dialogue simply awful) or “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (the dialogue/delivery and basic premise of this film, ugh) or Cate Blanchett’s “Manifesto” from 2015 (visually interesting but rendered boring by its overbearing politics).



“Shin Godzilla” was the most silly fun I had watching a movie in a while. A perfect blend of modern CGI and rubber monster suits. The 1983 French documentary “Sans Soleil” was so captivating, when it was over I immediately watched it a second time.


“Shin Godzilla”

I liked “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” from Ang Lee (a 2016 release), and would have liked to have seen it on a theater screen when it was screened in 4K HDR 60fps.


“Lady Bird”

Netflix continues to put out quality original content. Last year they released a few good movies: “Mudbound”, “First They Killed My Father”, “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond” and “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” which *finally* gave Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller two great roles to work with. It’s strange seeing either of them doing quality work that doesn’t leave me feeling rubbed over with a cheese grater, but both of them? Santa came early this year.


“Big Mouth”

Speaking of Netflix, I discovered “Big Mouth”, my new favorite comedy and animated series, and “Mindhunter”, a brilliant psychological drama created by Joe Penhall with David Fincher directing the first two and last two episodes.


“Ash vs. Evil Dead”

I also fell in love with “Ash vs. Evil Dead”, or at least the first two seasons available. Not only did they recreate the cabin from the original two films but they brought back Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) and Henrietta (Ted Raimi inside the body suit) and Ash’s severed hand, and Xena (Lucy Lawless) and created some new creepy deadites, including the reality-shifting Eligos. Groovy!


“A Quiet Passion”

I also liked the first season of “Dark”, the second season of “Stranger Things”, the third season of “Schitt’s Creek”, the fourth season of “Bojack Horseman” and the HBO limited series “Show Me A Hero”, which should be required viewing for all “West Wing” fans. Supposedly “Portlandia” is over after 7 seasons and it didn’t feel like they did anything special at the end of the last episode, which was a bit of a letdown. I puttered through the first few seasons of “Community” on Hulu before skipping ahead to the last couple episodes of the sixth season, and now await the movie. I also discovered what may be the only season of “Tornado Hunters” which airs on CMT of all channels. It’s silly fun.

Now that I live in Portland, I have access to many movie theaters, and unlike Cedar Falls, they’re not all owned by the same corporation. Which means I can now sign up for MoviePass. A flat $10 per month and I can see one big-screen movie per day. That plus being in close proximity to the world’s best video rental store with about 90,000 titles, and I’m truly living in a golden age of cinema.

Written by camcarlson

January 7, 2018 at 4:54 PM

Posted in Cinema

Living in Portland

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Thoughts on the first six weeks of living in Portland…

  • People are generally polite, much in the same way folks in Cedar Falls are. I’m relieved by that, as I expected the majority of big-city folk to come off as stand-offish if not downright rude.
  • Prices are generally the same, though gas is about 50 cents higher (for non-ethanol). As I live a mile east of I-5, I have noticed that gas stations closer to the interstate can command prices 25 to 50 cents higher per gallon than stations further east, even amongst the same chains.
  • I live within a mile of five grocery stores. The closest, Fred Meyer, is a mere three block walk from our apartment. It is similar to Wal-Mart in that it is split between groceries and home goods. The interior is much better designed, it is far more clean, and aside from super-busy weekends, there is less anxiety being there.
  • On the note of super-busy weekends… everything is busy on weekends. Which makes sense. But when you live in a metro area of one/two million people, foot traffic is basic stores and shopping areas is downright insane. So far I have done my damnedest to only shop on weekdays, around midday if I can help it.
  • The variety of bars and restaurants is far greater than anywhere in the midwest outside of Chicago, though so far we have found more so-so places than we have places we want to visit again. A few standouts: McMenamins for a tasty burger, Pho MeKha on Sandy Ave for pho, Angelina’s (downtown) for gyros, and My Father’s Place for an afternoon beer and a basket of crinkle-cut fries.
  • The variety of movie theaters is initially exciting, until I realize most of the larger multiplexes are owned by Regal and charge an arm & leg for tickets, even for matinees. It has taken a bit of sleuthing to find a few cheap theaters, but they exist — the best one (so far) being the Laurelhurst, a mere mile-walk from my apartment, which charges $3 for matinees and $4 for evening tickets. They also serve beer and wine, and are a 21-and-over establishment (after 6 p.m.). Also work checking out are the Academy Theater ($4 and BOGO Tuesdays), the McMenimans Kennedy School Theater ($4), the 5th Avenue Cinema, student-run through PSU ($5), OMSI’s IMAX theater ($7) and the Hollywood Theater a mile to the east ($9), which occasionally screens 70mm prints.
  • The weather was warm the first month – mostly sunny with temps in the 60s and 70s. November brought cooler temps (40s through lower 50s during the day, low 40s at night), more cloud coverage and occasional rain. When it rains, it’s light, and only lasts for a short while. The weather forecast may show a chance of rain every day for the week, but it’s usually nothing my hooded jacket can’t handle. Only one day over the past six week has it rained all day long.
  • We are about a 90-minute drive from the Pacific Ocean. Traffic along Highway 101 this time of year is not as heavy as I expected, though I’m sure trips taken next spring and summer will end up with more gridlock.
  • Driving through the forests (yes, Oregon has forests, in the mountains no less) is an absolute treat. Lots of twists and turns, ups and downs, with the occasional scenic vista off to the side of the roadway.
  • Amtrak serves the Pacific Northwest capably enough that taking it north to Seattle (a 3 hour 45 minute trip) is the better option versus the 3 hours spent driving on Interstate 5, which is a constant state of disrepair and congestion.
  • We live half a block from a Falls Avenue-like commercial area, mostly small shops, restaurants, a few offices peppered here and there, and on-street parallel parking. Barber shops, dance studios, pet stores, a tiki bar, wine bars, whiskey bars, Thai food (forgot to mention above in my list of standout restaurants: Sweet Basil on 32nd has amazing fried rice w/ mango and avocado, and their lobster balls are the best appetizer I’ve had here thus far), bakeries, tailors, a sewing studio, tattoo parlors, a mattress store, a post-office annex that handles UPS/FedEx/USPS packages, a Goodwill, a few chain places (Subway, Qdoba, Village Inn), et cetera.
  • I have yet to find a substitute for either the Panther Lounge (though My Father’s Place comes close) or the Lava Lounge (Hale Pele, a half-block away, has several affordable happy hour options, but otherwise it’s WAY too crowded for my tastes, even during the week.
  • The best place for a margarita, ironically, is right next door, at the Cha Cha Cha, which has $5 happy hour margs every day of the week. They taste different… no, better, than the margs at the Lava Lounge. So I’m happy. But no plastic monkeys on the glass, so that’s a bummer.
  • Recycling is a big thing in Portland. Our building has two garbage bins, two recycling bins for paper, plastic and aluminum, and a bin for glass.
  • There is no gas hookup in our building. The stovetop/oven and heaters in the living room and bedroom are all electric.
  • Portland has a homeless problem, exasperated by an affordable housing crisis. It is an everyday occurrence to find folks sleeping curled up in business doorways and/or digging through waste baskets for empty cans. On more than one occasion I’ve walked by someone urinating in public, in broad daylight. The second time it happened, I literally had to leap over a growing puddle of piss sliding down the sidewalk. How pleasant.
  • One way folks have temporarily/halfway avoided homelessness is by parking vans/RVs on residential streets and sleeping in them at night. I’m getting pretty good at telling which vehicle don’t belong to the houses they’re parked in front of.
  • Portland loves mass transit. When I need to go somewhere more than a mile away, I can use my Hop card to tag a ride on a city bus (which passes by every 15 minutes from early morning to late at night, a refreshing change of pace from the Cedar Valley’s lame 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. once-an-hour offer). Either side of the Willamette River offers street car service (one route clockwise, one route counter-clockwise, and one route strictly north-south on the west side). Max lines also connect downtown with the outlying suburbs and the airport to the north. My Hop card lets me ride the bus once for $2.50, the street car once for $2, or unlimited all day for $5. It’s smart enough to know when I’ve already ridden earlier in the day so I never overpay in any 24-hour period.
  • Because I walk 50% of the time and take the bus or streetcar 40%, I’ve significantly cut down on driving. Ever since getting my Oregon plates, I’ve driven approximately once per week. I’ve only had to put gas my car twice since moving here.
  • Because the chance of even a light about of rain on any given day is about 90%, the odds of seeing a rainbow in the sky is also about 90%.
  • Before it got cold outside, I’m pretty sure I didn’t notice any flies or mosquitoes outside. Ants, yes.
  • At least in the nearby 3-6 block radius, most folks have eschewed lawns for moss and tree-covered landscapes. I live in a neighborhood that has taken its landscaping cues from the Mandalay.
  • Our apartment building, while beautiful, only provides us one large window facing east and one large window facing west. Neither window has more than a two-inch sill. So we are mostly without houseplants while we live in our current digs. So it goes. Viet’s monkey plant remains outside our door for the time being.
  • For the first time in nearly 11 years, I have a shower with a tub. But the stopper in the drain is jammed open, so I can’t close it to take a bath.
  • I discovered the coolest video store in the history of the universe, only a couple miles from where we live. Their selection is amazing, their method for organizing their titles is whimsically delightful, and they recently completed a fundraiser to merge management with the local Hollywood Theater, staving off a shutdown and sale of their inventory. Long live Movie Madness! I’m going to rent so much weird shit from them in the years to come.
  • I cannot find a single store that will sell me Brach maple nut goodies.
  • I have only hung a couple items on the wall so far, one of them our travel map of the U.S. I’m not sure what I’m waiting for with the other pictures. Something to tackle this week I suppose.
  • We made the right decision to move here.

Written by camcarlson

November 14, 2017 at 2:07 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

Never tell me the odds

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Here’s how “Rogue One” stack up against the other Star Wars films in terms of box office receipts. The below list is domestic (North American) box office returns, adjusted for inflation.

  1. Star Wars (1977, plus 1982 and 1997 re-releases) – $1,540,734,500
  2. The Force Awakens (2015) – $935,195,600
  3. The Empire Strikes Back (1980, plus 1982 and 1997 re-releases) – $848,609,400
  4. Return of the Jedi (1983, plus 1985 and 1997 re-releases) – $813,613,900
  5. The Phantom Menace (1999, includes 2012 re-release) – $781,199,400
  6. Rogue One (2016) – $532,177,324
  7. Revenge of the Sith (2005) – $513,157,600
  8. Attack of the Clones (2002) – $462,502,300
  9. The Clones Wars (2008) – $42,360,400

First off, should “The Clone Wars” even be considered? I think it should, given the now-existence of “Rogue One” as another filler movie between two official ‘episodes’ in the series. To be fair, “The Clones Wars” was released more as a plug for the television series on Cartoon Network between 2008 and 2014, chronicling the events between Episodes II and III, than as a standalone episode.

As shown in the list above, the original trilogy clearly does very well compared to the other films, aside from the latest episode. The original 1977 film made more than 50% more than “The Force Awakens” did two years ago, though it should be noted that “A New Hope” was re-released two times and “The Force Awakens” has (so far) only been in theaters once. Let’s see where they stand 10 to 20 years from now.

The mid-range ranking for “The Phantom Menace” can be attributed in part to pent-up demand for a new Star Wars films after 16 years, helped by the 1997 re-releases of the original trilogy. As an aside, I saw all three films during this re-release while I was in high school, and having owned and watched the 1995 VHS releases, I was quick to note the various non-subtle changes Lucas had implemented in each film. *shakes head*

“Rogue One” is at sixth place, just barely above “Revenge of the Sith”. Not bad, but not overly great. Given that the first film in each trilogy seemed to make more money than the two films that followed it, one could assume that the upcoming “The Last Jedi” and any subsequent non-episode Star Wars film won’t be making as much as “The Force Awakens” or “Rogue One”, respectively. That’s my speculation.

I also wanted to compare the films via their worldwide box office receipts, but couldn’t find reliable numbers for the 1982 re-releases of “Star Wars” or “The Empire Strikes Back”, nor the 1985 re-release of “Return of the Jedi”, nor the brief IMAX run of “Attack of the Clones”. But I could find foreign receipts for the rest, and used the same inflation rates I used for the domestic ticket sales, and came up with the following:

  1. Star Wars – $3,027,564,982
  2. The Force Awakens – $2.065,018,988
  3. The Phantom Menace – $1,786,351,047
  4. The Empire Strikes Back – $1,763,990,825
  5. Return of the Jedi – $1,355,979,402
  6. Revenge of the Sith – $1,145,374,925
  7. Rogue One – $1,055,724,829
  8. Attack of the Clones – $966,762,247
  9. The Clone Wars – $82,237,171

“The Phantom Menace” jumped up from fifth to third place, given the increased importance in foreign movie theaters between 1983 and 1999. In other words, the original trilogy made more of their money here in North America compared to later films in the series. Totally understandable given the huge growth in multiplexes, especially in Asia, during the past quarter century.  It’s no surprise that “Rogue One”, knowing it needs to play to more than just a white/American audience, features two Chinese actors in prominent roles (Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen), along with other non-white cast actors (Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, et al).

On this list, “Rogue One” falls slightly behind “Revenge of the Sith” but remains slightly ahead of “Attack of the Clones”. Not a very enviable position, all three being near the bottom of the heap (aside from that slacker “The Clone Wars”). My thought on this is, going back to the point on how the first film in the original trilogy and the prequels did better business than the subsequent two films, is that audience demand had been made, and tampered off in the following years.

There was a three year gap between the films of the original trilogy and the prequels, whereas only 12 months between “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One”. Three years felt like a good amount of time to build up a bit of demand and anticipation for the next installment. So I wonder if audiences at some point in the near future will get fed up with a new Star Wars film being fed to them on an annual basis. Eventually, Disney will start to see diminished returns on their $4 billion purchase of Lucasfilms, though they have clearly made most of that back with their first two Star Wars releases. But one has to wonder, how long can that last?


Written by camcarlson

August 16, 2017 at 6:53 PM

Favorite films of 2017 (part 1)

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[minor visual spoilers ahead]

While I have seen several films in theaters and a couple dozen more on DVD, the bulk of the first half of this year has been playing catch-up on older films (mostly 2016 releases) and the plethora of serialized shows on Netflix and Hulu. Here’s what I’ve seen and liked…


“Get Out”

Of the 2016 films I saw this year, I really liked “The Founder”, “Gold”, “Lion”, “Moana”, “Paterson” and “The Red Turtle”. “Jackie” was a good character study that, in my amateur opinion, captured the look and feel of the early 1960s very well. I saw Martin Scorsese’s latest film “Silence”, and liked it, but if it holds up like most of his other films have over the years, I’ll probably like it more, a lot more, as time goes on. He’s always been very good in that way, creating art that grows in value over time.



2017 films that I’ve really enjoyed include “Dunkirk”, “Get Out”, “Split”, as well as Amazon’s Grateful Dead doc series “Long Strange Trip”, Netflix’s WW2 doc series “Five Came Back” and their comedy special “Oh, Hello on Broadway”.


“The Red Turtle”

I’ve seen several superhero movies so far this year: “Logan” and “Wonder Woman” (both very good), “Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2” (fun, more of the same) and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (also fun, but 6 Spider-Man movies in 15 years is a little much).


“Long Strange Trip”

“Kong: Skull Island” was fun to watch and I get why it was regurgitated (to tie in with a future Godzilla crossover), so I’m glad they put a new spin on the origin story. “Ghost in the Shell” boasts some impressive visual effects but it pales to the 1995 anime version. “The Lost City of Z” had a great premise but it petered out near the end of its overly long 141-minute run time. “Alien: Covenant” was a bit of a letdown… it did not feel like “Prometheus” at all, which I was hoping for, and opted for too much darkness and gruesome violence.


“Oh, Hello on Broadway”

A pair of 90s documentaries — “Oklahoma City” from PBS chronicles the rise of fringe hate groups that culminated in the 4/19/95 bombing. And “Dumb: The Story of Big Brother Magazine” revels in rebel skateboard culture but, like the publication, it meandered from one thread to another with no clear scope or purpose in mind. In hindsight, that’s the perfect approach to this doc.



I caught the 1981 oddity “Roar”, starring real-life mother-daughter pair Tippi Hendren and Melanie Griffith. The film took 11 years to make, was never released theatrically stateside, and at one point during production Griffith was mauled by a lion and required 50 stitches to her face. The director Noel Marshall (also the co-star) developed gangrene from his injuries, and the film’s cinematographer had his scalp literally lifted off his head in one animal attack. Between 70-100 (if not more) crew members were injured in some way… wild stuff!

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“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”

Of those plethora of serialized shows I’ve seen, I liked “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (seasons 1-2), “Better Call Saul” (2), “Shameless” (1-6), “Bloodline” (1-3), “Glow” (1) and “Westworld” (1), as well as “The People vs. O.J. Simpson – American Crime Story”. Oh, and the current (seventh) season of “Game of Thrones”.


“Game of Thrones”

Some shows felt like their latest seasons are running out of new ideas, such as “Halt and Catch Fire” (3), “Veep” (6), “Grace and Frankie” (3) and “Silicon Valley” (4). The fifth season of “Orange if the New Black” seemed to breathe new life into a series that had left me feeling meh after season four ended, so I’m glad for that. Some shows, like “House of Cards” (5) and “Mr. Robot” (2), I’m still watching (for now) just to see where the overall story goes.

Written by camcarlson

August 7, 2017 at 3:54 PM

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Favorite films in 2016 (part 2)

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Following up on my previous entry…

I haven’t watched the Academy Award ceremony in several years, but this year I’m actually upset I missed it. Turns out Bonnie & Clyde committed the mother of all blunders and misread the Best Picture winner, though it wasn’t immediately clear partly because everyone figured La La Land was going to win anyway. So when they reversed course and announced Moonlight as the legitimate winner, I was genuinely surprised. And somewhat pissed; Moonlight winning would mean my streak of seeing every Best Picture-winning film in a movie theater would have ended (it began with Titanic in 1997). As luck would have it, the film came back to College Square for one week following the awards, so Viet & I were able to catch it and keep my streak intact. I’m glad we did — it’s a tremendous, moving, beautiful film, full of hurt and mistrust and confusion and beauty and hope and I’m not really describing the film at all, but it doesn’t really need its plot described, just the emotions it brought out in me.



Thinking back on 2016, I really liked Rogue One more than I did The Force Awakens.


“Rogue One”

Right after Christmas we tried out a free one-month trial subscription to Amazon Prime, and consumed all three seasons of Transparent as well as Mozart in the Jungle, and the first season of The Man in the High Castle. It moved a little too slowly for my tastes, so I passed on the second season in favor of randomly selected episodes of Shaun the Sheep.


“The Man in the High Castle”

Speaking of Aardman Studios, 2016 was a pretty good year for animation. I equally enjoyed the simple beauty in the adventure tale Long Way North and the juvenile crassness of Sausage Party. Kubo and the Two Strings was also visually stunning. But the real gem was the 1973 Japanese animated film Belladonna of Sadness, which felt like a watercolor version of Kill Bill crossed with Faust.


“Long Way North”

Quality documentaries include Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall; Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things; The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?; Oasis – Supersonic, and Dreams Rewired.


“Sausage Party”

Between mid December and late March I also saw and enjoyed Beauty and the Beast (the 2014 french live-action version), Born To Be Blue, Dark Water (the 2002 Japanese version), Don’t Think Twice, Hacksaw Ridge, Hidden Figures, Last Days in the Desert, Little Men, Snowden, Under the Shadows and Zero Days. The FX mini-series “The People vs. OJ Simpson” was extremely well done and I stayed up until well past 2 a.m. Saturday morning watching the last 5 episodes on Netflix… though I still prefer the ESPN 5-part documentary “OJ: Made in America”

Dark Water 2002

“Dark Water”

The most overrated film of the year award easily goes to Manchester By the Sea. I was so bored sitting through this chore of a movie. Runners up include The Accountant, Bad Santa 2 (so sad, I had such high hopes for it!), Patriots’ Day, The Birth of a Nation, and Southside with You. Sully was okay but nowhere near as compelling as Captain Phillips was a few years ago.


“Last Days in the Desert”

Todd Solonz has made a career out of making films that make its audience squirm. His latest, Weiner-Dog, definitely hit that mark with its awful ending involving two semi trucks. That’s all I’ll say about that.


“Under the Shadow”

I thought La La Land was cute and charming but not the great film everyone made it out to be. Emma Stone did her best to try to sing, but Ryan Gosling, nope. The two of them can barely even dance.


“Shaun the Sheep”

Written by camcarlson

April 14, 2017 at 9:23 PM

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Favorite films of 2016

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I’ve seen some good movies this year, a few I would consider “great”, but none have really stood out over the others. I guess I would say that, so far, I’ve been a bit underwhelmed. Well, maybe not “under”… just “whelmed”. Not overly impressed. Granted, there’s a lot being released this time of year, and it will likely take me a few months to get through them. Anyway, here’s what I’ve liked so far…


“Captain Fantastic”

I really liked Michael Moore’s latest documentary “Where to Invade Next”, the 1991 Studio Ghibli animated film “Only Yesterday” (whose English-language release in the U.S. occurred just this year), the excellent sci-fi think piece “Arrival”, the alt-family Robinson road trip tale “Captain Fantastic”, the 5-episode 8-hour long EPSN doc series “OJ: Made in America” and the Netflix series “Stranger Things”.


“OJ: Made in America”

(though really, who didn’t like “Stranger Things”?)

I also liked “The Witch”, “Midnight Special”, “The Nice Guys”, Werner Herzog’s Netflix-produced doc “Into the Inferno”, “Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party”, “Hell or High Water” and “Rogue One”, which I just saw tonight.


“Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party”

Other films I enjoyed: “10 Cloverfield Lane”, the career-spanning doc “De Palma”, “Doctor Strange”, “Don’t Breathe”, “Everybody Wants Some”, “High Rise”, “Indignation”, “Into the Forest”, “Louder than Bombs”, “The Shallows”, “Sing Street”, “Swiss Army Man”, “The Lobster”, “The Program” and “Zootopia”.


“Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem”

I was disappointed by “Batman vs. Superman” (I watched the torturous 3-hour long director’s cut), “Knight of Cups” and “The Neon Demon”. Netflix’s “I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives in the House” was so boring, I had to stop watching before the first hour was over. I watched “Hardcore Henry” and I can’t recommend it other than to people who like watching other people play video games.


“The Witch”

I saw a number of ‘blockbusters’ this year — “Captain America: Civil War”, “Ghostbusters”, “Star Trek Beyond”, “The Legend of Tarzan” — but the one I would recommend would be the live action “The Jungle Book”.


“Midnight Special”

My film list has been heavily marked up in red, both crossing off titles and writing in ones that were impromptu watches. I’d wager I watched about 200 movies this year. Given the size of films in queue with Netflix and Facets, it’s going to take me at least another year of heavy consumption before I can significantly “dial it down”.



Speaking of Netflix, I watched and liked the first 3 seasons of “The Fall” as well as the first 2 seasons of “Halt and Catch Fire”. Also, the first season of “Lady Dynamite” and the third season of “Bojack Horseman”. Their stop-motion CGI film “The Little Prince” was cute and enjoyable.


“Only Yesterday”

Of the older movies I’ve seen this year, I really liked “Araya”, “The Dead Lands”, “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem”, “The Gold of Naples”, “Kings of the Road”, the 1980 PBS film “The Lathe of Heaven”, “Lianna”, “Lonely Are the Brave”, “Murder by Contract”, “On the Silver Globe” and “The World According to Garp”.


Written by camcarlson

December 16, 2016 at 9:57 PM

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